In the book Indigo, the author(Louis Fischer) describes a vital event in India’s history, the first Civil Disobedience movement which started by Mahatma Gandhi at Champaran in 1916. The problem which was faced by the sharecroppers in Champaran was that all the tenants were forced to plant 15% of their land with Indigo crops. This had been a long term contract between the sharecroppers and the British planters/estate owners which had an adverse effect on the sharecroppers and their families. Gandhi then launched what is said to be the first instance of Satyagraha in India and the movement ended with a victory as the English landlords were forced to return 25% of the money which they had extorted from the sharecroppers.
Gandhi Ji tells Louis about the first time when he encountered this problem which is the year 1917. Gandhi Ji had gone to the December 1916 annual meeting of the Indian national convention of the Indian national congress in Lucknow when a poor peasant came up to him. That man was Rajkumar Shukla from Champaran who wanted Gandhi to visit his district. It was located near the kingdom of Nepal in Bihar. Shukla was a sharecropper.
Rajkumar Shukla had come to the congress session to complain about the widespread injustice of the landlord system in Bihar. This is where he met Gandhi and requested him to visit Champaran to see the unjust system prevailing there. At that time Gandhi had to visit many other parts of India but Shukla was adamant and begged Gandhi to fix a date. This impressed Gandhi who in turn asked Shukla to meet him in Calcutta(Kolkata) and take him to Champaran from there. From Calcutta, both men boarded a train for Patna. There Shukla took him to the house of a lawyer named Rajendra Prasad but he was not present at that time.
To obtain more information about the condition of Champaran, Gandhi decided to go to Muzaffarpur first. There he stayed for 2 days with professor Malkani. The news of his arrival quickly spread through Muzaffarpur and then to Champaran.
Most of the fertile land in Champaran was owned by Britishers while the Indian tenants worked for them. Since at that time Synthetic Indigo had been developed by Germany, the indigo plantation was not very profitable. Hence the owners obtained agreements from the sharecroppers(sharecroppers) to pay for being released from the 15% rule. Even though many of the peasants were illiterate, they saw through the trick of the landlords and were not ready to pay. Those who had signed before wanted their money back.
The first step which Gandhi took was to meet the secretary of the British landlord association which did not yield any result. Afterward, he met the commissioner who warned Gandhi to leave but Gandhi did not leave. Gandhi then went to the capital of Champaran, Motihari. A huge crowd greeted him at the station. After a little while, he got an official notice from the authorities to leave Champaran immediately but he made it clear that he would disobey the orders. Next, Gandhi received a summon to appear in court the next day. Thereafter he prepared a full report to the viceroy. The next morning thousands of peasants demonstrated in support of Gandhi. This was the beginning of the liberation of people’s fear of the Britishers.
The government was baffled on seeing so many people backing Gandhi. The authorities wanted to postpone the trial but Gandhi himself protested against the delay. He told the judge that he was caught in a ‘conflict of duties’. It was his duty not to set a bad example as a lawbreaker but justice to the thousands of poor sharecroppers was more important. The court didn’t deliver the judgment for several days.
Gandhi had many interviews with the lieutenant-governor in the upcoming days. The lieutenant-governor appointed an official commission of inquiry into the indigo sharecroppers’ situation. Gandhi was made the representative of the sharecroppers. He stayed in Champaran for almost 7 months. There were multiple pieces of evidence of the landlords and British officials for illegally taking money from the sharecroppers. Gandhi demanded back 50% but the landlords and British officials offered to refund only 25%. Gandhi finally agreed because this was the first instance that the British government had backed down.
While staying in the Champaran village, Gandhi saw the social and cultural backwardness which was prevalent throughout. He wanted to immediately do something about it. 2 men Narhari Parikh and Mahadev Desai joined him as disciples. Many people came from other parts of the country to join the cause. As a result, Primary schools were opened in 6 villages, and many awareness programs such as cleanliness and sanitation were started by other people.
The Champaran episode was a turning point in Gandhi's life and Indian History. It was more than just a simple victory against the Britishers, this incident showed the Britishers that the people of India were capable of standing against them. Gandhi tried to mold a new free India, thus paving a way for self-reliance.
1. What is meant by the term ‘Sharecroppers’?
Ans. Basically, Sharecropping is when the owner of the land allows another person(a tenant) to use the land in exchange for a percentage of total crops grown on the land. The person in this case is called a Sharecropper since he doesn’t own the land. This practice has a long history.
2. Why was the demand for Indigo crops so high in Britain?
Ans. The main reason is that the former markets of the crop(America and West Indies) had collapsed and the climate conditions for growing the crop were good in India.